Mechanicsburg Area School District policies violate student speech rights, give principal unbridled discretion, and discriminate against religious speech.
(MECHANICSBURG, PA – January 31, 2019) Student leaders of a Bible club have filed a lawsuit against Mechanicsburg Area School District (MASD) over unconstitutional policies that violate students’ rights and for their discriminatory practices that led to denying permission to offer Bibles during non instructional times, specifically from a table during lunch.
“Literature distribution and speech rights should be permitted during the school day at non-instructional times in non-disruptive manners,” says Jeremy Samek, Senior Counsel for the Independence Law Center, the legal team representing the students. “Students do not lose their right to free speech when they enter their school.”
This civil rights lawsuit filed by the students today in District Court challenges MASD’s unconstitutional prohibitions on student expression.
The unconstitutional school policies not only deny all students’ right to distribute any written expression at any time during the school day or on school property, but kicks such speech to the curb, as their regulations only permit this kind of free expression at one place — on “public sidewalks bordering school property” — and at one time — 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school.
As the complaint points out:
“MASD has taken away student speech rights in the school and even seeks to regulate their speech rights during non-school hours on public sidewalks that every member of the general public possesses.”
The Bible club requested permission to set up a table at lunch for students to sign a poster saying what they were thankful for and then to offer those students a Bible. The table and thankfulness poster were approved, but the request to offer Bibles from the table was denied by the principal.
“Despite what the school district has later said, the students requested permission to share Bibles at lunch and were explicitly denied the ability to do so by the principal,” says Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel for the Independence Law Center. “The principal by email told the students they are ‘not permitted to handout Bibles during the school day[,]” which itself is unconstitutional.”
Video (56 seconds) – Jeremy Samek: This litigation protects all students’ constitutional rights, not just the students involved in this lawsuit. Schools are a place where learning to civilly exercise these rights should start.
Independence Law Center is a Pennsylvania-based pro-bono legal organization dedicated to advancing civil rights.